By Patti Johnson
The phone rings at the home of a pastor. Besides the usual collection of calls it might be about, there is an added category that most households do not experience.
It is one of a confidence that you did not know was coming. You may know the person well, or it may be only a name you are familiar with from the church attendance roles. It may even be a relative or friend of someone you do know that was encouraged to reach out to share this confidence.
The call may reveal a diagnosis of an illness, an impending marriage separation, a trauma that has surfaced after many years, a sudden death with family turmoil attached, a financial hardship that is weighing heavily with dire consequences. There are as many scenarios of circumstance as there are people in our ministry world.
As a pastor or spouse listens to the confidence being shared, so begins the journey of holding the weight of that confidence.
There comes to mind several truths that have helped us over the years to discern the responsibility of holding confidences as well as managing the hours, days, months and sometimes years to come.
Below are several we go to:
“The confidence is a privilege to hold, not news to share.”
“It is a body of information to bear, not to show its effect.”
“It is a trust to treasure, not a key to unlock for others.”
Just a short time ago, we received one of those confidentiality calls of an untimely and tragic death.
A family already in the pit of despair and questions and relational fault lines that had the potential to rip further apart. Practical steps that no one had the road map to follow. Fear and vulnerability now transparent and out in the open to a few.
A pastor starts with the assurance that the confidence is safe in these ears that hear. Then prayers of comfort. Then practical steps that can be followed. Then assurances again that they are safe, and their confidence is safe. So begins the new weight of a new confidence to carry as long as needed.
Then the weight, while felt by the one carrying it is almost visible to the weight bearer, it is not and cannot be to others. But the weight bearer knows it is a trust to be treasured and a privilege to help process.
However one must do this while living the full circle of life. Parties and picnics to attend, meetings to preside over, visions to cast, encouragements to gift, so many areas of life that this confidence will never belong. It will be added to the other confidential treasures that have been trusted within the safe walls of a pastor’s life.
The day after that recent phone call, we did have a church picnic to attend. With the news and weight of the confidence, we entered the gathering and managed as we had promised the confidence that was not to be shared. Amongst the picnic goers there were many that would hear that Sunday of the death, but not hear the tragic circumstances. It was not for us to tell. It was a trust to keep.
We enjoyed the picnic like many others before, coming and going with an invisible weight. We greeted the others, then said our goodbyes. Knowing that the next time we were together just a few short days from then, they would bear some of the weight of the news but not the weight of the confidence. That is reserved for a few. A few that make that commitment in ministry. A commitment made before the details of what one might hold is revealed.
How does one do this? By knowing that God will often allow more than we can bear alone, but not more than we can bear through His strength and our dependence on Him.
I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13
Dear kindred hearts in ministry, we have been given a privilege and trust into the lives of others. Let us hold tight to that commitment we have made of confidentiality and depend on God to help us hold the weight of the treasure.